#Wargame Commentary – @littlewarstv asks “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?” Not in my house!

So the gentlemen at Little Wars TV seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy with their provocatively-titled episode “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?”

Little Wars TV

In a word – “No.”

OK, it all depends. First one is your definition of a wargame. A later Little Wars TV episode narrows their definition to “historical minatures wargames.” Using that definition the “tabletop hobby boardgame wargame” sector of the hobby is excluded. For me, I am a tabletop hobby boardgame wargamer first with very few miniatures. Coming at the problem from that perspective, I can confidently say that in my little corner of the world, and especially in the RockyMountainNavy house, “wargaming” is far from dying.

For myself, I am a huge wargamer first, boardgamer second, and roleplaying game player third. I am fortunate to be able to pass my love of gaming to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who play games with me. For the future of the hobby I rest my hopes on the youngest RMN Gamer who this year has taken to evangelizing games to his friends. I am also fortunate that Mrs. RMN believes in the power of games (although she is more boardgamer than wargamer-focused).

Further, I support the hobby through the purse – I am a large consumer of wargames. So far in 2020 I have purchased taken delivery of 53 hobby boardgaming related items, of which 23 are wargames and a further three (3) are wargame expansions. This compares to 2019 where I purchased 56 items, of which 21 were wargames, seven (7) were “waros” (hybrid wargames with strong Eurogame mechanics) and a further seven (7) expansions. I am doing my part to support the hobby by not only playing games, but by financing the industry.

(See my 2019 Wargame of the Year post here.)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys support the hobby through play. My middle boy, RockyMountainNavy T, is my usual 2-player wargame partner. The youngest RMN Gamer, now 16, started playing boardgames at age 4 and played his first “wargame” – Memoir ’44, around age 8. He actually has his own wargames – Wings of Glory (Ares Games, 2012) and Team Yankee: Hammerfall (Battlefront Miniatures, 2017).

Little Wars TV focused on historical miniature wargaming. As you can see from RMN Jr’s list, both are historical. According to BoardGameGeek I have 71 ‘miniatures’ games in my collection. Of those 71 games, 32 are historical or modern and 39 are science fiction/fantasy. Although there are more than a few good historical miniatures games, I will also say the science fiction/fantasy crowd is very good too. I see the schism in the miniatures wargames crowd between historical and sci-fi but feel it is unnecessary at best, and damaging to the hobby at worse.

To me, the two most important actions the hobby can take to keep it from ‘dying out’ is to 1) encourage ‘gateway’ or ‘foundation’ wargames and 2) control costs. Games like the Commands & Colors series, especially Memoir ’44 with a high ‘toy factor’ are both easy to learn and look good on the table yet are rich in decision space. As an added bonus, there are so many different Commands & Colors games that finding one that covers a period that appeals to potential gamers should be easy. In fact, there is even a space ship battles version!

The major drawback to wargaming is cost. Wargaming, and for that matter hobby boardgaming as a whole, are not inexpensive hobbies. Most of the wargames I bought (new) recently were in excess of $50 retail, and could reach into the low $100 range easily. That, of course, is for a single game – let’s not talk about buying expansions and the like. This cost can quickly make wargaming prohibitively expensive. For instance, RMN Jr. started out loving Wings of Glory and Team Yankee when he got their respective Starter Kits. He loved the potential – and bought a few more items. That was when he realized the price of the hobby. As a high school kid he does not have the financial wherewithal to afford the hobby. Sure, he often uses his ‘Amca’ (Short for Amma Card – or Mom’s card) and he is making his own money at work but still, miniatures wargaming takes lots of money.

Back to the original question: Is wargaming dying? No, but there are some structural challenges in the hobby that could make it difficult to remain strong into the future. On the plus side there are many potential ‘gateway’ games and, generally speaking, I think there are fewer barriers to entry as even the hardcore, SPI hex & counter grognards are more accepting of ‘alternative’ designs. That said, if the cost of the hobby continues the way it is going, then even if right games are published they may not be affordable to play. Indeed, if the cost of “pay to play” gets out of hand nothing else matters.


Feature image courtesy militarymortgagecenter.com

#MiniaturesMonday -or- my Origins 2019 #Boardgame #Wargame Challenge in the #Battletech Introductory Set (2007 Miniatures Rules of the Year) from @catalystgamelab

ALTHOUGH THE BATTLETECH INTRODUCTORY BOX SET WON the 2007 Origins Award for Miniatures Rules of the Year, I did not formally get my first BattleTech set until the Third Edition Introductory Box Set published by Catalyst Games in 2011. As I wrote before, I was VERY disappointed. However, very recently RockyMountainNavy Junior purchased with his own money the “new” Fifth Edition Beginner Box (Catalyst Game Labs, 2018). So rather than just revisit the rules, I decided to compare the two sets and see what, if any, improvements occurred between the 2011 Introductory Box Set and the 2018 Beginner Box. I am happy to say the new 2018 Beginner Box has much improved sculpts and rules but is in some ways more limiting than the 2011 Introductory Box Set.

Rules

Quick-Start Rules – New and Old

Both the Battletech 2018 Beginner Box and 2011 Introductory Box Set contain Quick-Start Rules. I fully realize that the Quick-Start Rules are NOT what won the 2007 Origins Award but it’s what I can directly compare between these two sets. The 2011 and 2018 Quick-Start Rules are near-identical with the exception of Combat. Specifically, the new 2018 Quick-Start Rules use an attack process named G.A.T.O.R. This simple pneumonic makes combat fast and easy. Everything in G.A.T.O.R. was in the 2011 version but it was not called out as such. The new version is much simpler to teach and learn.

Miniatures

Another major improvement in the 2018 BattleTech Beginner Box is the ‘Mech sculpts. The 2011 ‘Mech sculpts were, to put it kindly, crap.

Poor quality with too much lost detail & flash. Reminds me of cheap plastic soldiers from a discount store

The 2018 Beginner Box has only two BattleTech ‘Mech sculpts but they are of much higher quality. RockyMountainNavy Junior wasted no time in painting them up.

Work in progress – but at least they feel like miniatures not toy soldiers

Limited Options

The Fifth Edition Beginner Box is really bare-bones. Two miniatures, a paper double-sided map, and Quick-Start Rules. Background material is a 24-page fiction booklet and a short source booklet. The BattleTech 2011 Introductory Box Set included the full 80-page Introductory Rulebook and mounted maps as well as 24 miniatures. Actually 26 the Introductory Box Set has 26 minis as it included two “premium” miniatures that had to be assembled. Sadly, the “premium” should of been the standard!

As much as I am tempted to give RMN Jr. the older complete rule book, if he wants to pursue the BattleTech Universe a better option is to purchase the pdf of BattleTech: Total Warfare which touts itself as the complete up-to-date rules. It’s only $14.99 on WargameVault.com.

The Battles Ahead

RockyMountainNavy Jr. seems to be happy with the BattleTech Universe. I think we will be playing more (and he will be investing more) in this game universe. After my disastrous experience with the 2011 Introductory Box Set I was hesitant to support him but now I see the BattleTech Beginner Box as a good investment and starting point. So BattleTech is welcomed back into the RockyMountainNavy household…as long as they avoid the pitfalls of the past.

#ModelMonday – Tanks Camouflaged

IMG_1410
Tiger I, Tanks Card, and Osprey 

Little I got Tanks: Panther vs Sherman (Gale Force 9) for Christmas. For his birthday, Brother T got him the Tiger I expansion. In a wonderful show of brotherly love, T not only gave him the model, but then built it and painted it up!

Little I is very excited as his collection is getting much more personalized. T also has shown a natural ability to paint miniatures. I have several old Mongoose Publishing Starship Troopers Miniatures Game sets that I know I won’t get around too…maybe it’s time to turn them over to T and see what he can do!

Wargame Wednesday – Tomorrow’s War Really is Yesterday

Courtesy BGG

Product:Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing, 2011).

System: Force on Force. The game is self-touted as “a science fiction military miniatures wargame with emphasis on “hard” science fiction rather than “Space Opera” or “Science Fantasy” (p. 5).

Appearance: Mid-size (9.6”x7.7”x0.9”) full-color hardcover. Cover art is a bit dark but evocative of setting. Content is 260 double-column pages with border art. Inset text-boxes and tables use a darker shade of green-gray for offset which is easy to distinguish from the core test. Interior art is a mix of color miniature photos and artwork.

Content: Twelve (12) chapters along with Introduction, five Appendix, Fog of War Cards and Index.

  • Introduction (5 pages) – The true introduction is written by Jon Tuffley, designer of my favorite future skirmish rules Stargrunt II. Here is where you also find the time and distance scale (both undefined) as well as Designer’s Notes (in two sections – core text and an inset box)
  • Tomorrow’s War: Interstellar Combat in the 24th Century (24 pages) – Introduces the “optional” setting. Can be a bit confusing since several game concepts (such as Tech Level) are discussed without any game reference to assist in understanding
  • Commonly Used Terms and Concepts (2 pages) – Not an index but a compilation of 20+ items; interestingly most do not appear to be cross-referenced with the index
  • The Turn Sequence (3 pages) – Details the Sequence of Play for “Equivalent Forces.” Through experience I have discovered this chapter covers only a very basic game and does not cover many of the other rules
  • The Basics of Play (10 pages) – Covers “the basic, recurring mechanics” though “the actual application of these mechanics is explained in more detail later” (p. 38)
  • Units & Leaders (8 pages) – “…explains the structure and characteristics that define the nature of units and leaders” (p. 48)
  • Infantry Combat (44 pages) – The heart of the game and in many ways the “basic rules.” This section ends with a 3+ page “Putting It All Together: Lost & Found” scenario that attempts to showcase the rules just introduced
  • Mechanized Combat (25 pages) – Rules for vehicles and interactions with them. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: Tigers by the Tail” scenario
  • Close Air Support and Interface Operations (12 pages) – Rules for airstrikes and VTOLs and paradrops; no “Putting It All Together” scenario provided here
  • Off-Board Artillery (6 pages) – Artillery fire mission rules. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: The First Battle of Vallin Farm” scenario
  • Special Unit Types (23 pages) – I call this the sci-fi special rules section; robots and drones and aliens and (most importantly) the Grid – or network centric battlefield rules. Ends with the “Putting It All Together: Bugs in the Reactor” scenario
  • Asymmetric Engagements (7 pages) – An obvious nod to asymmetric warfare of today (and a legacy of the Force on Force rules), this section covers rules for irregular units. The scenario “Putting It All Together: Ambush at Bonaventure Crossing” is found here
  • Tomorrow’s Campaign (17 pages) – Designed to make your games more than just “one-shot” scenarios. Adds an “After Action Sequence” as well as rules for developing your combat team and combat fatigue. Even talks about how to build an insurgency
  • Appendix 1: Common Unit and Vehicle Attributes (8 pages) – Defines attributes for squads and vehicles
  • Appendix 2: Organization Examples (16 pages) – Uses the “optional” Tomorrow’s War setting
  • Appendix 3: Vehicle Examples (8 pages) – Again uses the “optional” setting
  • Appendix 4: Scenarios (20 pages) – Lays out five scenarios yet again based on the “optional” setting
  • Appendix 5: Artwork (1 page) – Credit where credit is due
  • Fog of War Cards (16 pages) – Actually eight sheets since each is printed front-back. Not made to be cut out unless you do it yourself
  • Index (2 pages)

Comment: I have already stated my bias above; when it comes to sci-fi skirmish games I love Stargrunt II as well as Striker from the Traveller game line. I am also a long-time RPG player where in many cases combat is basically a skirmish rule set.

Verdict:  BLUF – There is a good game here…somewhere.

I bought this game as an impulse buy at Barnes & Noble. I saw the beautifully illustrated hardback on the shelf and was sure that the association with Osprey Publishing would guarantee the inside to be lavish and interesting. So what if it was $34.95 retail? I get my 10% off as a B&N member! Surely it is worth $31.50, it’s Osprey! I have to say the package is a bit disappointing. Inside you don’t find the nice Osprey 3-D maps or the Osprey uniforms that are so wonderfully detailed. Instead you get pseudo-computer display maps and artwork that is evocative but not the “Osprey style” that I associate with the name. I do like the miniatures photos (actually I am jealous of all those nicely painted models).

I was also drawn in by the promises in the Designer’s Notes. The authors boast:

“This isn’t to say that Tomorrow’s War is just a modern or WWII wargame dressed up in a space-suit. The battles you’ll see unfold on your table will have some things in common with those fought today or even sixty plus years ago (tactical skill and human factors of morale and confidence will always make themselves felt as long as men are present on the battlefield), but you will see significant differences. We’ve gone to great lengths to model the presence and impact of realistic advances in technology with these rules. You’ll see robotics used to support (and sometimes replace) human troops on the field and the impact of a truly networked command structure. These and other “futuristic” developments will make your games of Tomorrow’s War unique in flavor, both from other science fiction games and from historical games in general.” (p. 8)

Unfortunately, I think Ambush Alley misfired with Tomorrow’s War. I expect more from a system that costs over $30 and claims it is going to be a “unique” experience. Indeed, for a game that draws on their Force on Force roots I expected more finished package. To begin with, the order of rules is horrible. Everything from Terms & Concepts through Infantry Combat is essentially the basic game but some rules are introduced before other dependent rules and there is little cross-referencing. This makes it hard to follow. Fortunately, you can play this part as the Sequence of Play is (generally) complete.

Mechanized Combat to Asymmetric Engagements feels more like bolt-on modules that can be added or subtracted from the game. But even doing that is hard because there is no overall Sequence of Play beyond the very basic one introduced early in the book. So many rules state that they take place at the nebulous “beginning of a turn” without further detail. I cannot help but feel that each of these “modules” was built in a vacuum from one another or even the basic game. The “Putting It All Together” scenarios are a great idea but fail in execution. For example, the “Tigers by the Tail” scenario at the end of Mechanized Combat focuses on infantry versus vehicles only; for vehicle versus vehicle combat you have to use “The First Battle of Vallin Farm” which doesn’t have any artillery though it is located in that section. “Vallin Farm” also uses the Grid which is not covered until the next section! Indeed, only one other scenario (Scenario 4) has anybody on the grid.

Nearly 20% of the book (closer to 25% if you count the scenarios) is devoted to the “optional” setting. This is not as bad as it seems since I find the “optional” setting quite well thought out and interesting enough. I especially like the stories in the flavor text. This focus does make me think Ambush Alley missed their chance to try and make the game a “generic” system. Why not show us a mercenary tank regiment? How about two armies with one based on genetic replicants and the other on Smart Bots? What about humans against a force of bots and synthetics? Oh by the way, synthetics are talked about in the flavor text but there are NO RULES!

Then there are the Fog of War cards. First off, these are not cards or even sheets but pages. There is no clean way to cut them out. Sure, Ambush Alley says you can go to their webpage and download a version. That is what I want to do after spending over $30 – NOT!

The two items that the designers hang their hat on as the core of the “unique” gaming experience, bots and the Grid, are covered in 11 pages,or less than 5% of the overall content. The Grid appears in only two of 10 scenarios. Bots actually do not appear in ANY scenario though you do get one scenario with bugs (aliens) and one with powered armor.

I don’t think Ambush Alley achieved their goal of avoiding a modern game dressed up in a spacesuit. Nice concept; poor execution.

Spring Gaming

After a long time of no gaming (funny how housework/yard work/kids soccer games seems to dominate weekends) this weekend featured a return to some game time.

Clone Wars Starter Set

First up was a game of Star Wars Miniatures using the Youngest Jedi’s newly purchased Clone Wars Starter Set.  The Youngling now has the right amount of math skills to be able to figure out his own numbers.  He still is a bit young to understand all the text on the cards relating to special powers but If it is explained to him at the beginning of the game he tends to remember a good deal of it.  That and a little bit of prompting during play makes it a most enjoyable gaming experience.  The Youngling still uses the minis for pure imagination adventures, but he seems much more interested in playing the game too. Even Mrs. RMN was impressed with his zeal for play!

Buffalo Wings

The second game of the day was a solo play of Buffalo Wings.  Set up was Scenario 16.3 Italian Sports Planes which featured an Finnish Fiat G.50 with a Veteran pilot versus a Russian I-16 with a Regular pilot.  The first few turns were a relearning experience for me and they went a bit slow, but as the cobwebs were dusted off the later turns went faster and better. Starting in a neutral head-on encounter, the battle became a climbing dogfight as each tried to get superior position on the other.  A few shots were traded, usually at longer ranges with very little chance of a hit.  The dogfight ended in a draw when the Finnish pilot extended to disengage after the better-turning I-16 had tailed him for a few turns.  All-in-all it was refreshing to get back into a J.D. Webster Airpower game.  I found the initial learning curve a bit hard, but after a few turns it was clicking along quite well.  Buffalo Wings would serve as a great intro game to the Airpower series.

Battlestar Galactica

Finally, I was messing around with BSG: The RPG the other day.  In particular I was experimenting with the starship combat system.  One important concept in combat is that range is relative.  This works well for one-vs-one but what if you have a pair of Vipers flying CAP for a stray freighter when the Cylon Raiders come after it?  After messing around with a few concepts on paper I hit upon the idea of using range templates.  Each ship has a template with range circles around.  As each ship moves relative to another the templates are moved.  When they are “together” at Skirmish Range they are totally overlapped.  I fought a small battle with the Vipers protecting the freighter against two pairs of Raiders.  It seemed to work well; the templates can be used without adding to the existing rules.  Indeed, they serve as a simple visual aid and cues to rules.  I still want to experiment with the presentation.  Maybe I will create a generic template or maybe ship-specific ones.